The magic of Fight Island apparently did not make the trip when the UFC returned home.
With an Abu Dhabi sojourn that produced numerous entertaining fights, compelling storylines, new champions, and fresh contenders, there was expected to be some letdown with the first UFC APEX show since the end of June. July began with a pay-per-view headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and “BMF” champion Jorge Masvidal, while the first show of August was originally set to be headlined by a Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana bout that wasn’t even guaranteed to establish the next challenger for Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight title.
That fight was canceled anyway when Aldana tested positive for COVID-19, moving Derek Brunson and Edmen Shahbazyan into Saturday’s main event spot, but little could anyone have predicted that that was just the beginning of the chaos for UFC Vegas 5.
Changes on Fight Island led to the popular Masvidal earning his first UFC title shot and the emergence of the next big thing Khamzat Chimaev; the withdrawals of the last two weeks left officials scrambling to keep a card together.
That’s a dozen fight cancellations or alterations for what eventually turned out to be an eight-fight card, one of the skimpiest in UFC history following a 15-fight card last week that was tied for the busiest in UFC history.
Simply put, just taking into account a 48-hour period there’s no UFC card that can match the chaos that swept through the APEX this weekend. Let’s recap, shall we?
- Markus Perez lost opponent Eric Spicely to weight-cut complications, then on Friday the Nevada State Athletic Commission put the kibosh on replacement Charlie Ontiveros
- Nate Maness and Jamall Emmers saw respective opponents Ray Borg and Timur Valiev withdraw for undisclosed reasons, then received new matchups on Friday morning against newcomers Johnny Munoz and Vincent Cachero
- A light heavyweight bout (already weird) between longtime middleweights Ed Herman and Gerald Meerschaert was promoted to the main card and then cancelled when Meerschaert tested positive for COVID-19
- The main card opener between Kevin Holland and Trevin Giles was waved off when Giles fainted just moments before the fight was set to take place. It was later reported that Dana White personally called Herman to see if he could fight Holland, but Herman was already somewhere outside of the quarantine bubble drowning his sorrows
- Joanne Calderwood also fainted backstage following her first-round submission loss to Jennifer Maia
- According to the broadcast, there were 10 pauses in action due to low blows in the eight fights that occurred. Only one low blow resulted in a point deduction
And that’s not even mentioning the changes that happened before Friday, including the cancellation of the aforementioned Holm vs. Aldana main event, plus withdrawals by Jun Yong Park, Da Un Jung, Viviane Araujo, and Luke Sanders, all of which happened within the past two weeks.
The UFC has put forth an incredible—one might say, absurd—effort to keep cards intact in the coronavirus era, but even the preeminent entity in MMA had to just stand and stare as Saturday’s card crumbled into a fine powder. Even with the 16 fighters that ended up competing doing their best to entertain, there was only so much that could be done.
Another card is already less than a week away, so before we put this whack-a-doodle show behind us, why don’t we see how UFC Vegas 5 compares to some of the UFC’s other beleaguered events?
UFC 223 — April 7, 2018
It was all so perfect. Fans were finally going to see Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson fight and in New York, no less. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of!
A fight of that magnitude meant making more media rounds than usual, but what could go wrong other than the two lightweight stars having to deal with some additional fatigue? How about Ferguson rupturing a ligament in his knee tripping over a cable in a studio? That was strike four for the perpetually doomed Nurmagomedov-Ferguson engagement.
But that’s okay, here comes featherweight champion Max Holloway to set up a megafight that we didn’t even know we wanted! Oh no, the weight cut has been deemed unsafe. Holloway is out. Anthony Pettis? Couldn’t make championship weight after previously being scheduled for a non-title fight. Paul Felder? Ranking was considered too low by the New York State Athletic Commission (ugh). Screw it, let’s throw Al Iaquinta in there and call it a day (Iaquinta did fight Nurmagomedov, but was ineligible to win a vacant UFC lightweight title himself as he was also over championship weight before being informed of this new opportunity).
All of that is before we even get to Conor McGregor’s involvement.
Hurricane McGregor tore through the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with a crew in tow, causing absolute chaos in retaliation for McGregor’s close friend and teammate Artem Lobov getting into a hotel confrontation with Nurmagomedov’s associates earlier in the week. The wild intrusion came to a dramatic peak when McGregor threw a dolly through the window of a bus transporting Nurmagomedov, resulting in injuries to Borg and Michael Chiesa that forced them out of fights, Lobov being removed from the card for his involvement in the incident, and Rose Namajunas admitting that she considered pulling out of her title fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk (Namajunas stayed on the card and beat Jedrzejczyk a second time to retain her title).
It’s safe to say there has never, ever been a fight week like the one leading up to UFC 223.
UFC 200 — July 9, 2016
What UFC 200 lacked in volume as far as changes, it more than made up for in the magnitude of the fights that had dirt shoveled on them by the MMA gods.
Who could forget the first Conor McGregor retirement? “Thanks for the cheese.” But this was no ordinary retirement. McGregor wanted something and as specks of the truth became public, it appeared that what he wanted was not only the freedom to train and skip out on certain media obligations, but a rumored $10 million paycheck.
The UFC didn’t bow down to McGregor’s demands (at least not this time) and his main event rematch with Nate Diaz at the promotion’s anniversary show was off. A grudge match between light heavyweight rivals Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier was booked to replace it, but that too fell through when Jones failed a drug test just three days before fight night.
UFC 200 still did major bank with middleweight legend Anderson Silva jumping in out of nowhere to fight Cormier in a non-title bout, the returning Brock Lesnar fighting Mark Hunt, and Miesha Tate’s bantamweight title defense against Nunes being promoted to the main event. It’s incredible that this card took two devastating hits and kept on rolling.
UFC 85 — June 7, 2008
And then there was UFC 85, which—you cannot make this up—was appropriately titled Bedlam.
This was just the UFC’s third trip to London and the plan was to put its best foot forward with a Chuck Liddell vs. Shogun Rua light heavyweight main event that later mutated into Liddell vs. Rashad Evans and then into Evans vs. James Irvin (huh?) and then into a pile of formless goo due to a variety of maladies.
Matt Hughes stepped in on short notice to fight Thiago Alves in a new main event (with Alves promptly missing weight), but the co-headliner between hometown hero Michael Bisping and fan favorite Chris Leben would have to wait for another day as Leben withdrew due to being handed a short jail sentence before the card for a DUI probation violation that wouldn’t be complete until less than two weeks before UFC 85. Jason Day took Leben’s place.
Other UFC 85 withdrawals included Ryo Chonan, Jonathan Goulet, Paul Kelly, and Neil Wain. For some added weirdness, Nate Marquardt and Thales Leites was the rare fight that saw a fighter lose two points as Marquardt was penalized for an illegal knee and an elbow to the back of the head, which cost him a narrow split decision. That win put Leites one win away from a shot at Anderson Silva at UFC 97, and he would eventually face “The Spider” in one of the worst title fights of all time.